Saturday, February 22, 2014

Analysis of "Self-Portrait In a Wire Jacket" by Monica Youn

Original poem reprinted online here: "Self-Portrait In a Wire Jacket" by Monica Youn
Originally read: August 8, 2013
More information about the Poet: Monica Youn


The couplets read like two separate entities, yet the funny thing about this poem is that the two identities are within the same base, the same poem.  Couplets, usually, work like this, but this idea is amplified further here due to the (over)usage of prepositional phrases and line breaks to set up rhetorical statement that automatically disprove a notion.

For example, "To section off / is to intensify, / to deaden.," these lines has an implicit statement going a couple ways: the implication that to not section off is to not intensify, and the way the poem will be read, intense focus on what needs to be "dead."

"Some surfaces / cannot be salvaged"  I think the deadpan tone comes through with the bluntness of this statement, followed by, "Leave them" which adds a dramatic flair to the ambiguous surface, but the poem turns with this line as well -- the statement turns further, "to lose function / to persist only / as armature,"  Note the leave them goes directly with losing function, but the important part, I feel is to persist.

And then the simile of "as armature"  which I looked up on an online dictionary, but didn't see for myself.  So there's the idea of a mechanical shell that rotates in order to, "holding in place / those radiant / squares"   and here it's not what the radiant squares represent ("sensation" [an even more vague description]), it's the actual visual implications -- the break between what's there and what's there -- "this body a dichotomy"

A statement which is further defined (complicated) with the actual of, "of flesh and / blood."  As stated earlier, the line breaks create one piece of rhetoric which completely turns with the next line, but the following lines feel directly unrelated to the text:

     [...] Wait here

     in the trellised
     garden you

     are becoming

What makes these line different is not the visual, but the tone.  The command as though the speaker is wanting to show the "you" something rather than the prepositional phrases which show something.  The difference is want.  So when the speaker states to wait, the cutting line breaks aren't as harsh because the speaker wants the "you" to focus.

"Soon you'll know / that the structures / have themselves"  even if the lines stops here, the reader is trained to wait until he end at this point, "become superfluous" so there's both the having only the self and the judgement call of superfluous:

    but at that point

    you'll also know
    that ungridded

    you could no longer survive.

The structure of this independent clause doesn't rely on the line breaks like the previous lines.  Gone are the discrepancies in meaning.  In place is the main, core point to get across.  I'm not sure about this technique wise.  The unpacking was part of the fun with this piece, but I understand the reason for this.

The key word here is "ungridded" which references the structure of the poem.  Yes, poem has structure, but is not on a specific "grid" -- the set rhetoric is not set and vacillates either strengthening both meanings or weakening them due to interpretation.

Can a "you" survive this?

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